There are a handful of moments early in Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip that dangle the promise that the movie might not be mediocre. A Wes Anderson-style montage here, a joke there, a bit of sparkle between Jason Schwartzman’s titular young novelist and Jonathon Pryce’s grand elder, and you could almost think there’s a possibility this movie would turn out to be anything other than garbage.
You would be wrong. Listen Up Philip is wretched, spiteful, arrogant, and nasty. The “story” (it doesn’t actually have one) of a writer who is a terrible person, it opens with the mystery of why anyone would want to spend even a minute in the presence of this despicable ass, first and foremost his live-in girlfriend and photographer Elisabeth Moss. The short answer is that she hangs onto him for no reason at all, which is the only reason anyone in this movie does anything, and the slightly-longer answer is that, once she does inevitably dump him, the movie meanders after her for a while and it turns out she, too, is a mopey mess with no redeeming qualities. Eventually the movie meanders back to other characters, who do things like “alienate their friends and relations” and “dramatically self-destruct” in ways that are almost impressive for their lack of humor, compelling interest, or even tangential relationship to the way human beings actually act.
Listen Up Philip’s agonies are exacerbated by the philosophy of its construction, which seems to be shoddy plagiarism which attempts to compensate for lack of understanding with a maximum of self-important affectation. Shot in sickly yellows and oranges that look like the one Instagram filter nobody likes, filled with odd and inconsistent framing choices, and rife with shaky cam…ok, I have to say this:
PEOPLE STOP IT WITH THE SHAKY CAM, WE DON’T LIKE IT ANY MORE, WE DON’T THINK YOUR MOVIE HAS ANY MORE VERISIMILITUDE TO OFFER, IT’S NOT COOL, AND WHEN YOU’RE THIS BAD AT IT YOU ARE GIVING US MOTION SICKNESS, JUST FUCKING STOP.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, there is a jazz soundtrack for no reason. Still, the biggest crime is its twee refusal to firmly establish when the movie takes place: its characters abstain from using things like “cell phones” yet all the cars are modern, making this just a lazy, lazy movie that is bad and you should not watch it.
Mostly insufferable for its first twenty minutes before devolving into being utterly interminable for its remaining ninety, Listen Up Philip has zero distance from its characters, all of whom are awful and boring. The entire cast is wasted. It never passes the Bechdel test even when it gives itself multiple opportunities to do so. Nobody has any motivation based in humanity, despite a legendarily-bad voiceover that tries to hit home those motivations with the force and directness of a sledgehammer to the face, which is basically how I feel having seen this movie. There is, of course, a French girl who smokes and both hates and loves our anti-protagonist, just to make sure we know it’s that kind of movie.
The biggest sin Listen Up Philip commits is being as self-important as it is pointless. While Perry is nakedly trying to stake out some territory along the lines of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, he doesn’t bring even a quantum of the warmth, affection, and empathy towards his characters – and humanity in general – that defines those filmmakers even when their characters are cruel, selfish, or cold. The result is a misanthropic mess without any redeeming qualities: there is no humor, no philosophy, and no lesson. Listen Up Philip, in the end, is just like the central character it describes. It petulantly demands to be heard even as it has nothing to say.